At our house, I’ve always been the bad guy. To be more precise, I’ve been a lot of bad guys. Sometimes it is just part of me, like when my hands became the Flying Tickle Spiders. Other times I’ve needed extra props, like the brown blanket for the times when the Muddy Hole Troll tried to trap my children in his muddy pit in a terrible plot to keep them filthy. In lightsaber fights, Sith Seth has always been the one threatening destruction and calling good little Jedis to join the dark side. Then there have been attacks from the electric Volt-ure who zapped children (disclaimer: no real electricity was involved) and the Alien Chef who has tried to make them into sandwiches between the beanbags. Our house has been a dangerous place.
The thing is, all my terrible plots have ended in failure. I guess I’m not really that great at being an evil mastermind. Somehow, the children have always found a way to defeat me. Which is fine. Actually, I’m happy. I want the bad guys to lose, too. Yes, our house can be a dangerous place, but it is only silly danger, and my children can fight my evil plots with complete confidence of eventual victory. We just have fun together, and I hope they remember that. But I hope they remember more—I hope they hold on to that feeling of confidence, of knowing they will win eventually. They are growing up now, growing beyond the games and closer to the reality of the world, and here’s the thing: the world is a dangerous place.
Continue reading Being The Bad Guy
I wasn’t born in a barn, but I did live in one for a while. My parents had bought some land in the country, and the barn went up fast. Construction of the house was slower, so we lived in the barn while it was being built. There was no insulation, and in most of the internal doorways we hung curtains instead of actual doors. I remember shaking my shoes out before I put them on in the morning to make sure there were no scorpions inside. I also remember being happy. Yes, we were roughing it in a lot of ways, living without a lot of normal conveniences, but life was good. When the house was finally finished and we moved in, it was nice to have fancy things like doors, but it didn’t change the basic dynamic that was already well-established: my parents had created a positive atmosphere, and that was the air I grew up in—it didn’t matter if I was breathing it in a barn with scorpions or a house with doors.
Continue reading When I Lived In A Barn
When “The Greatest Showman” came out in 2017, our daughter was five years old and especially impressed by a song that was sung with perfectly choreographed aerial acrobatics. When that same song came on during the credits after the film, her hands shot up, ready to dance, so there was no choice, really. I picked her up high, spun her around, and realised suddenly that the two of us had just twirled our way into a moment that would haunt me with happiness forever after.
Continue reading A Real Acrobat
Growing up in America, Thanksgiving Day was one of the highlights of the whole year. Some years my family travelled to feast with others, other years guests came to feast with us. I remember the leaf piles, laughter, and Atari games with my cousins, and when we were home, I remember the five kernels of corn.
We would sit at tables that had been fully extended, knowing that the biggest feast of the year was waiting in the kitchen. We could smell it. We could nearly taste it. The tables were dressed up with the best tablecloths and plates, and on each one of those plates were five carefully counted kernels of corn. Before we ate them, my mom reminded us why they were there: she told us about the Pilgrims who landed in the new world seeking religious freedom, and how they struggled to survive those early winters in the wilderness. She told us how local Native American tribes helped the struggling Pilgrims, teaching them the right times and ways to fish and grow crops in a new environment. But then, just when they started to get ahead, a ship full of new settlers arrived without food supplies. To keep themselves alive, the entire settlement was reduced to a ration of just five kernels of corn a day. Could you imagine? Somehow, they made it through that winter and lived to bring in a good harvest the next year. As they celebrated that harvest with the local tribes who had helped them, they began their feast together with a reminder: five kernels of corn were placed on each plate, “lest anyone forget”.
Continue reading Five Kernels Of Corn
Birthday cakes are hard work. First there’s the planning, the choosing of flavours and decorations to match the one being celebrated. Then the time comes and there’s the baking, decorating, lighting, singing, and finally eating. Hopefully someone remembered to snap a photo, because once the knife goes in, the culinary work of art is quickly dispersed to paper plates and plastic forks that were created to be used just once, before going to fill the rubbish bin.
Continue reading The Importance Of Creating Things That Don’t Last
I didn’t wash many dishes in our first years of marriage, but I felt quite proud of every one of them. I could scrub one pot in a week and bask in the glory of my goodness. For some reason, my wife didn’t feel the same awe at my occasional fits of kindness. For some reason, I didn’t understand why.
These days, I do dishes. I don’t keep track of how many, and I no longer feel the same way about them. They need to be done—it’s only fair. Even though I’m doing more, I feel less proud of it. This summer, I read a story by George MacDonald that helped me understand why:
Continue reading If I’m Proud Of Doing My Duty, I Probably Don’t Do It Enough
We found a rope swing near our house. It’s hanging from a tree that is not on our property, in a field that is empty and waiting for development. Our neighbours showed us how to find the path where people walk their dogs, where the one tree stands alone in the middle of wide open green—a green studded with more wildflowers than we would have thought possible.
It’s not our garden, but our children can run there.
Continue reading You Don’t Have To Own It To Enjoy It
You wouldn’t notice it, if you walked by. It’s just a tree, next to an old house on a university campus. There’s a nice view from the hill, so you’d look at that, not a random tree. But I go there for the tree. To me, that tree, with the ground under it, is sacred.
Twice, I sat at a table under this tree. Twice, I set the table up and decorated it and prepared it for a surprise and a question. Twice, I worked up my courage to ask a question at the table under the tree, and both times I heard the same answer, the answer that changed my life:
Continue reading Yes
In the weeks we’ve lived in lockdown, we’ve discovered that Parcheesi is a fun game, car parks make good bicycle playgrounds when there aren’t cars in them, and there are paths to walk on near us that we never knew about. Having a 2km travel limit for weeks on end has forced us to be creative, and to look more closely at the familiar things in front of us.
Normally, if we want to see flowers in the Spring, we go to the old mansion house a few minutes away, where the formal walled gardens are open to the public and kept blooming with exotic beauty from around the world. Ever since we moved here, we’ve felt lucky to live near such a place. Now that place is closed. Instead, we walk in the industrial estate.
Continue reading 33 Wildflowers
From the sandy beach in Youghal, Ireland, you can see Capel Island just off the coast, with half a lighthouse. The unfinished tower now serves as a shelter for wild goats, who are the island’s only inhabitants, aside from the birds. But there’s more mystery in the history of Capel Island than abandoned construction projects and goats—legend has it that an infamous pirate buried treasure there in the 1620’s. We know the pirate was real, and we know his name: Nutt. We also know that he was betrayed and nearly hanged in England, but managed to avoid the noose thanks to his friendship with the Secretary of State.
After our family heard about Nutt, the infamous Captain began making appearances on family camping trips, telling tall tales of his fantastic adventures. In every story he nearly died, yet somehow managed to escape at the last minute. I wrote down some of these tales, intending to give them to my children as a Christmas gift (that was nearly three years ago… better late than never, right?). Now, in order to give them a physical copy that looks and feels like the real thing, I’ve self-published the book through Amazon. I’ve got their copies ordered, but in light of the current situation I thought I’d share the stories with you as well, in case you or your children would also like to hear the tall tales of the Captain willing to travel beyond the Edges of Doom in his hunt for the legendary Dessert Island, where the lollipoppies grow behind brown sugar beaches.
I want this to be my gift to you, so I’ve made the Kindle version free until Friday, the 1st of May (as long as Amazon will let me):
Continue reading The Notorious Adventures Of Nutt The Nefarious